Your honor, Exhibit A, "Sugar Babies," stands accused of silliness, bad taste, bad jokes and wretched excess. They have ladies dressed like ships. They have men running around in long underwear and funny hats. They have a chorus line that looks like a Clairol display case, blonds department. They even have a woman sing while birds fly out and sit on her.
This show, a re-creation of burlesque, is so corny there are stalks growing in the aisles. It's so corny the elephants would be blinded. It's so corny . . . never mind, you get the idea.
Opening at the Warner Theatre last night, with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller recreating the roles they have recreated for more than 2,000 performances now, "Sugar Babies" perhaps appropriately kicks off the next four years of a president who owes a great deal to show biz, since it was one of the shows he saw early in his first term.
When all is said and done -- and believe me, everything is -- "Sugar Babies" is fun but too long. A show that seeks an endless source of amusement in women's bodies and men's sexual performance can pall after a while, even with Rooney's clowning and Miller's strong and stately singing. The birds are funny, the bums are funny, the boobs are sometimes funny -- but enough already, 2 1/2 hours is too much.
The girls -- in this context, these women must be called girls -- parade in an impressive array of fanciful costumes and wigs, but at times their bandbox prettiness puts one in mind of a chorus line of female impersonators. Enough of their anatomy is displayed to allay any such suspicions, but the point is that they are unreal, "Sugar Babies" to watch like baubles on a Christmas tree.
This show intends to entertain, and if the puns don't appeal to you, or the naughty jokes, perhaps Frank Olivier will. A 23-year-old juggler, Olivier affects an endearingly goofy air that promptly ensnares the audience; indeed at one point he actually snares an audience, forcing a hapless customer in the front row to come up on stage and help him. Last night, both Olivier and the poor schmo in the first row managed to carry it off adroitly.
Mickey Rooney romps through this show as though it were his own personal playground and he is clearly king of the mountain. There were some opening-night goofs that must have been written into the show (a telephone ringing after he'd answered it, for example), because he seems to delight in the unexpected and improvised. He must drive the other performers crazy -- but they'd have to be that already to handle this show. Rooney is a first-class clown, although his attempts to localize the show at one point fell flat when he referred to the "Beltline" instead of the Beltway.
Miller can sing like a trumpet and gamely tap dances, although she does the former better than the latter. Phil Ford and Mickey Deems are the second bananas, Julie Miller is comely and expert as the second female lead (she gets to sing with the birds sitting on her), and Jay Stuart is the emcee, looking like a cross between Boris Karloff and Carl Sagan with the coat hanger still in his jacket.
There is also something right about this show being at the Warner, with its shabby grandeur and peeling gilt. The old days of burlesque are more readily conjured up for a new generation here than in the Kennedy Center, where the show played before with a different cast. I'm not sure we need be too distraught that burlesque died, but for a temporary resurrection, "Sugar Babies" is just disreputable enough.
"Sugar Babies," conceived by Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby, book by Allen, music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and Al Dubin, additional music and lyrics by Arthur Malvin, staged and choreographed by Ernest O. Flatt, sketches directed by Rudy Tronto, scenery and costumes by Raoul Pene du Bois, lighting by Gilbert V. Hemsley Jr.
With Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller, Jay Stuart, Julie Miller, Mickey Deems, Phil Ford and Frank Olivier. At the Warner through Nov. 18.